Thursday, March 21, 2019

The lawmen who caught Bonnie & Clyde

It takes a certain amount of daring to make a movie that’s bound to be compared to a movie that has acquired iconic status among moviegoers. We’re talking Bonnie & Clyde, the 1967 classic starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway and directed by Arthur Penn. Director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side), working from a screenplay by John Fusco, looks at the other side of the equation, the manhunt for two notorious gangsters during the economically depressed 1930s. The Highwaymen focuses on the Texas lawmen (Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson) who tracked and ultimately slaughtered two of American’s most famous criminals. Overly deliberate and nearly suffocated by a heavy emphasis on period trappings, the movie has the self-conscious feeling of a drama that’s steeped in a hard-boiled Texas point-of-view. Of the two actors, Harrelson proves more interesting as the drunken, shattered Maney Gault, a retired Texas Ranger who seems motivated by the need not to deny the violent past he shares with his former partner. As Frank Hamer, Costner invests heavily in the grim-faced seriousness of a man who believes evil must be obliterated. The choice makes sense but eventually proves a bit dull. A Netflix production, The Highwaymen raises interesting questions about the nature of the men who hunt outlaws. Are they any better than those they hunt? The movie, which spends very little time showing Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, also refers to the clash between the old-style lawmen represented by Costner and Harrelson and their younger counterparts. Hancock also exposes the disconnect between the brutality of Bonnie & Clyde, who shot lawmen in the face at point-blank range, and the celebrity they attained. Semi-successful attempts to add dramatic heft -- Hamer's confrontation with Henry Barrow, Clyde’s father (William Sadler), for example -- can be found but the movie's dirge-like tones make it a bit of slog. With Kim Dickens as Hamer‘s wife; John Carroll Lynch as the state official who insisted on involving Gault and Hamer in the chase; and Kathy Bates as Ma Ferguson, the first female governor of Texas and a character who might be worth a movie of her own.

No comments: